Floridians are voting in record numbers ahead of the Nov. 3 election. But President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden can’t afford to be complacent in the nation’s biggest battleground, even amid historic early voting turnout.
Both campaigns will have a big presence in South Florida this weekend in an effort to continue to spur on their bases in a state that Trump must win. And strategists are looking to the coming weekend to help crystallize what the final week of the campaign will look like.
Trump will vote in Palm Beach County Saturday morning, casting a ballot in person for the first time since registering to vote as a Floridian last year. Also Saturday, the Biden campaign will send former President Barack Obama to North Miami for a “drive-in” rally.
The dueling events come as Democrats attempt to hold onto their initial big lead over Republicans, a margin that has thinned since in-person voting began Monday. Polls show a tight race in Florida.
As of Friday morning, state data showed that more than 4.7 million Floridians had cast ballots, equal to about half the entire turnout in Florida in 2016. Of those ballots, 2.1 million have been cast by Democrats, 1.7 million by Republicans, and about 1 million by independents and voters with minor party affiliations.
“At this point, we’re headed for record turnout here,” Democrat strategist Steve Schale told reporters Friday.
Democrats’ advantage in ballots cast is due to their unprecedented vote-by-mail pace. The party’s voters have already cast 1.6 million mail ballots cast, shattering the 1.1 million record set in 2016 by Republicans, who historically have outvoted Democrats by mail.
For now, Biden has a lead on Trump in the range of 500,000 ballots cast, according to an analysis of early voters’ political leanings by Democrat tech data firm Hawkfish, using data from the Florida secretary of state and its own voter “support scores.”
But just as Democrats have flipped historical trends on their head with mail voting, Republicans are for the first time outnumbering Democrats at early voting centers, casting 140,000 more early, in-person ballots through the first four days of early voting than the opposition, according to state data. The GOP is also expecting hundreds of thousands of dedicated Republican voters who have yet to show up by Election Day to cast a ballot.
Republican turnout at early voting centers in Florida over the first four days of in-person voting has been up significantly over the first four days of early voting in 2016, according to the Trump campaign, with the biggest jumps in turnout over 2016 coming Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“We’ve seen Republicans deliver four straight days of record-breaking early voting participation,” said Trump campaign spokeswoman Danielle Alvarez. “The president and our ground game is delivering.”
Trump hopes to keep that trend going into the first weekend of early voting. The president is campaigning in The Villages retirement community in Central Florida Friday afternoon, and Pensacola later in the evening. Specific details around his plans to vote Saturday morning have not yet been released, but the campaign has planned a series of “Trump the Vote” events in Florida at 9 a.m. where attendees have been told they’ll have an opportunity to “vote early with President Trump.”
Meanwhile, Democrats, who tend to show up in higher numbers on weekends than weekdays during early voting, remain optimistic that Biden will head into Election Day with a healthy lead. More than a quarter-million newly registered Biden supporters had voted through Thursday evening. Another 100,000 supporters who skipped the 2016 and 2018 Florida elections have also likely voted for Biden, Hawkfish believes.
Hawkfish’s analysis also suggests independent voters have favored Biden.
Schale, the Florida strategist who ran Obama’s 2008 campaign in the state, said Democrats are especially focused on trying to turn out minority voters, including Puerto Ricans in Central Florida and the diverse array of Latino voters living in South Florida. Right now, Schale said, Hispanic voter turnout for Biden remains below the rates posted by white and Black voters. He said Hispanic turnout has also been disproportionately Cuban American, a right-leaning demographic that has helped Trump lift his numbers with Florida Latinos over 2016.
“I believe people are beginning to get the message that they may have to get in a line or may start looking for the ballot they received, and that it’s time to send it,” said Luis Miranda Jr., chairman of the Latino Victory Fund. “We’ll know if a lot of that begins to happen over the next five days.”